Professor Aleksandr Buzgalin explains historical relations between the Crimea region of Ukraine and Russia, ahead of a referendum vote which could bring Crimea under greater Russian control
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
As Russian and Western diplomats work towards a political solution for the crisis caused by the Russian intervention into Crimea, we’ll speak with our next guest about just why Russia decided to seize control of the peninsula region.
We’re now joined by our guest, Aleksandr Buzgalin. Aleksandr is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University.
Thank you so much for joining us, Aleks.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN, PROF. POLITICAL ECONOMICS, MOSCOW STATE UNIV.: Thank you for the opportunity to have this interview and to tell important things, I hope, for you.
DESVARIEUX: So, Aleksandr, can you just start off by talking about how Crimea became a part of the Ukraine in 1954, as well as the history of the region and the relationship with Russia?
BUZGALIN: So it’s a long history. First of all, I want to remind that during many hundreds of years, many decades, Ukraine was part of Russian Empire, and it was really not bad relation between Ukrainians and Russians, and it was difficult to say where there is a border, because Kiev, the modern capital of Ukraine, was one of the most important and cultural centers of our country, and Gogol and Shevchenko and other writers, painters, actors, were part of our common culture. And for us, Ukraine was part of our civilization, and for majority of Ukrainians, it was the same. So this is important.
Of course it was oppression, but it was oppression of everybody but tsar elite and the Russian brutal capital in past.
After collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became independent. And it was also important basis for conflict, because it was mainly conflict of Ukrainian pro-Western oligarchs and Russian or Ukrainian pro-Russian oligarchs, who were real exploiters Ukrainian people and Ukrainian nature, both, and it is difficult to say who was better, who was worse. Both worse.
This Crimea, another story. Crimea was part of Russia before it was part of Tartar and so on. It was long history then in 18th century. It was part of Russian Empire. And only 50 years ago, it became part of Ukraine artificially because Khrushchev, general secretary of Communist Party, decided to make this present to Ukrainian first secretary of Communist Party.
Absolute majority of Crimea people are Russian-speaking people, and a few are Ukrainians, and Ukrainian language was artificial for this territory. I was many times in this region. All my holidays I spended there. I delivered lectures in Sevastopol, federal of Moscow State University. It’s absolutely Russian territory, not because of occupation attempts, but because of the reality.
Also, it was agreement between Russia and Ukraine that in Sevastopol, the very important base for Navy, for military troops, for airplanes, and so on will be common base of Russian and Ukrainian fleet and Ukrainian and Russian troops, Ukrainian and Russian airplanes, military airplanes, and so on. It was mutual control with some conflicts, but typically it was the same people who were officers in Soviet Union in past, with the same traditions, with the same historical symbols, with the same victories, defeats, and so on.
Also, Crimea was part of absolutely heroic struggle against fascist occupation, and defense of Sevastopol was extremely brutal and extremely heroic. And this is part of the history of mankind, not only of our countries, because it was real fight against fascism, German fascism, Romanian, Italian troops, and so on, fascist troops during Second World War. It’s important prehistory.
And now it’s not really intervention of Russian troops. Already it was Russian Navy and Russian troops and Russian military airplanes and so on, because it was agreement between Russia and Ukraine before.
The problem is that some military forces decided to participate in support of peace and absence of battles in Crimea. This is question mark, because according to agreement, it was necessary to do–the police was–or militsiya of Ukraine was responsible for the peaceful situation in this region, as in all regions of Ukraine.
But when emissaries from a new transitional government, if I can say so, came to Crimea, and they came with support of Ukrainian nationalists, some of them with fascist slogans and fascist symbols, it was like attack of occupants from the point of view of majority of population in Crimea, and military forces became more peaceful forces than the forces who occupied territory of Ukraine. It’s very contradictory. And I’m sure that referendum will say no to modern Ukrainian government and they tell: we want to have independence.
And really I don’t know why, after collapse of Soviet Union, Ukraine said, we want to be independent, and it was okay until everybody said it’s not occupation or something like this. Now if Crimea want to be independent, it’s their business.
Of course, I’m very afraid that it will be real intervention of troops by the NATO or Russian or both NATO and Russian troops. It can be provocation for war. We have now nearly 100th anniversary of World War I. And why this war took place? Why former friends, Germans and French people, who were in one cultural Europe, started to kill each other and 10 million peoples were killed? For what? It was the same democratic country–Germany was democratic bourgeois country; France was democratic bourgeois country. And then terrible battle for nothing, because of imperialistic conditions.
Now, of course, there is problem of geopolitical ambitions of Putin and other officials of Russia. And I am not supporter of such ambitions at all.
DESVARIEUX: I’m so glad you mentioned Putin, because I want to speak to why Putin decided to move with such urgency to intervene in Crimea. Why do you think?
BUZGALIN: First of all, I am not Putin, and very often I cannot understand his logic. So it’s not question to me. It’s question to Putin. And he made some explanations, gave some explanations in his interviews. I do not want to repeat them. But I do give you advice. I do advise you to translate his interviews and to then think, is it true or not; but not to ignore his interview.
I think it is both attempts to show that Russia is big state which plays a big role in international world politics. And this is one of the ambitions of Putin and Russian bureaucracy in general. But there is also another aspect, because after such speech of Putin and decision of our parliament, it became much more peaceful situation in Crimea than before. And now these nationalists, Ukrainian nationalists, are afraid to come to Crimea and to say, go out to people who came on the basis of voting in the Square.
In Crimea it was the same like in Kiev. It was Maidan in Crimea. And people came to the squares and said, we do not want to have the government which was established in Kiev. It’s not our government. We don’t like them. We have our will. We people of Crimea want to have our power. But please don’t come to us. We don’t respect you. We don’t think that you are elected. Don’t. Why–.
DESVARIEUX: And that’s why they’re going to have a vote at the end of March, is that right? There is a referendum vote.
BUZGALIN: [They] want to make referendum, and I think it will be more or less democratic, as all voting in the situation of semi-revolution. You know, now it’s–in Ukraine, their power is based on the view of the squares, and this is initiative not of majority of Ukrainians, but this is initiatives of those people who came to Maidan, who came to squares in Crimea, in Kharkiv, in Donbass, in other regions, in western regions of Ukraine.
From my point of view, it’s necessary to respect this opinion, but not to think that this is the only opinion of Ukrainian people. There are different stratas, different interests, very deep social-economic contradictions between oligarchs, pro-Western oligarchs and pro-Russian oligarchs they’re behind.
By the way, new emissaries of new Kiev for eastern regions are huge oligarchs, owners of the biggest capitals in Ukraine. So it’s not alternative to Yanukovych or anybody else–the same bureaucratic oligarch capitalism, which will organize the same bureaucratic manipulation, or even worse than it was before.
People were tired from Yanukovych, and I understand very well that it is necessary and it was necessary to make democratic revolution. But what was happened in Ukraine, unfortunately, is not real democratic revolution on the basis of the–on the backs of the ordinary people who wanted to change bureaucratic, corrupted power, came to the power another–representatives of another oligarchical groups, another geopolitical forces who want to manipulate with Ukraine.
And also–this is extremely important; I want to stress. Their real force, which helped to receive power for modern Ukraine in government, this is force of Ukrainian nationalists. And they directly use symbols and slogans of troops in Ukraine which supported fascism, German fascism, for terrible actions against peaceful population, against Jews, first of all, against Belarus people, against Ukrainian and Russian people who did not support fascism or who did not want to collaborate with fascist Germany. It was anti-red, by the way, struggle, anticommunist struggle. And now in some regions of Ukraine, regional authorities said that Communist Party must be forbidden because this is pro-Russian party.
The law which restricted using of fascist symbols now is not actual. Now they said you can use any symbols of fascism; it doesn’t matter; no problems.
So I don’t like Russian nationalism. I hate it. But I also hate Ukrainian nationalism or any nationalism.
A very important aspect (I’m sorry, Jessica; I want to stress this also), this is position of United States and some European commentators–I mean, not position of North Americans, ordinary people and democratic people in the United States, but position of government and some mainstream mass media. It is only one way of reflection of the events, no very deep analysis of contradictions, no analysis of social-economic backgrounds, even class contradictions, which did exist in the Ukraine and which are very important.
That’s why I want to give more complex, more contradictory reflection of the situation. We do not have good solutions. We have choice between bad and very bad solution. This is the case, unfortunately.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Aleksandr Buzgalin, professor at Moscow State University.
In part two I’d like to pivot back to Russia and just talk about some of the internal politics at play. So please stay tuned for part two.
Thank you so much for joining us, Aleksandr.
BUZGALIN: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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